February 25, 2021 in Dag

Spare me all the action

Everybody loves action. Action is always the highlight of any visual storytelling medium, such as film or television.

Particularly on the big screen, the main thing people want to see is death-defying action. They want to see crazy, hair-raising stunts. The want to see long chase sequences that go on and on, consistently raising the ante and the fear factor.

Well maybe most people do. Which, I suppose, is just one other reason why, for better or worse, I’m not like most people.

The truth is, I’m just not that interested in action. Sure, I wouldn’t want to watch a film or TV show with no action. Just watching a bunch of people talking for a couple of hours is hardly my idea of great entertainment (and yes, I may get onto my general feelings about theatre in another post). But when the action takes over, and there’s very little else of interest in a film or show, I have to say that I lose interest pretty quickly. Action on its own is dead boring.

I remember not always feeling that way. Many years ago, I found the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, to be a revelation. Being kept on the edge of your seat for two hours was quite an experience. I went to see that movie in the cinema a number of times. But I found each of the subsequent sequels brought on diminishing returns. I was never quite able to capture that feeling again.

Of course, with Raiders being such a hit, Hollywood quickly jumped on the message that action is what makes movies work – and since then it seems to be the guiding principle for movie development. At least for big mainstream movies, it seems to be action and little else.

One example that always comes to mind is the Lord of the Rings films. As a confirmed Tolkien nerd, I was as excited as anyone to see them at the time. But looking back (and this might be controversial) I have to say I find them quite unsatisfying, particularly when compared to the books. Part of this I think is due to the length of the battle sections. In the books, these generally take up a handful of chapters, but in the films they were expanded out and out and out (almost taking up all of the second film). What to me was lost was what was most special about the books – the characters and their relationships and interactions. And don’t get me started on The Hobbit.

I find this becomes an issue in my writing as well. I like to focus on characters and ideas. Every so often, I realise I need some action to drive the story forward. I always find myself wanting to get past the action as quickly as I can, to get back to the characters. In a few cases, editors have chided me for not making the most of these action sequences.

So films that overwhelm with action and little else – yawn – I think I’ll pass. Give me something with strong characters. If I can’t find it, I’ll make it myself.

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